Bilal on gaining confidence and spreading awareness
Bilal is a Syrian architect, who also holds a Post-Graduate Certificate in Post-conflict Transitions and International Justice. He was forced to leave his home in Homs, Syria, six years ago and is now rebuilding his life in Turkey. In 2018 he took part in the Virtual Exchange ‘Refuge/es in Europe’ which was offered through the Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange initiative. Fast forward to 2020, Bilal is a trained online dialogue facilitator and active community member;
“I am trying to spread the impact of Virtual Exchange in my local community and through my current work”.
Looking back at his first experience with Virtual Exchange as a participant in 2018, he feels it was “essential” for understanding his new host community in Turkey. We asked Bilal about his thoughts on the impact and possibilities of Virtual Exchange for vulnerable refugee communities.
Do you feel the Virtual Exchange course you participated in helped to raise awareness about refugees experiences?
The course made me realise how important it is for us, as Syrians and newcomers in Europe, to express ourselves. We need to tell our story and make others hear it from us and not from the media. It is also essential to open communication channels with our new communities. This helps with our integration and understanding. However, in this course we also found common grounds to all of us: residents and refugees/newcomers. We agreed that nowadays, it is difficult to talk about different identities, as current migration waves are pushing us to build a common identity for all of us.
Can you remember a specific moment that had an impact on you (or the group) during your participation?
I still remember when one of the participants said: “It’s the first time I am talking to a refugee, now I know they are like me. Media gave me a negative impression about them and this was affecting my relationship with them”. In that moment I understood the impact of this project. It improves our critical thinking and provides skills to help us achieve (almost) the truth.
Did you come in contact with participants that usually have limited access to education or intercultural experiences?
Many participants come from conflict areas, a lot of them were not able to leave their country so could not continue with their education. Also, some of them had never met people from other countries or cultures. Remember, conflicts like the one in Syria started nine years ago.
These participants were so excited to meet people from different backgrounds and to share their stories with them. I feel proud to be contributing to giving them access to a platform where they can express themselves and learn from others. However, there are still many vulnerable people living in refugee camps and conflict areas that will never have a chance to participate in projects like Erasmus+Virtual Exchange. We should work hard to provide them with internet access.
How did your participation in ‘Refuge/es in Europe’ impact you?
I gained knowledge, new relationships, friends, a new way of thinking. Refugees need platforms to understand what’s happening in the rest of the world and safe spaces to express themselves. Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange provides a window to intercultural exchanges, something that is not always accessible to refugees; it’s a unique opportunity, and they deserve it.
I gained self-confidence. Now, I believe we can all contribute to promoting a global change. Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange made me realise that the impact we can make in society is not related to where we come from or what kind of official paper/citizenship situation we have, but to the efforts we are willing to make in learning and sharing experiences.
Thank you, Bilal Hazzouri for sharing your story.